The Bourne franchise has been a critical and box office win, so it isn’t at all surprising that we found ourselves with The Bourne Legacy a few years ago, but when it was announced that Matt Damon would return to the series after nearly a decade, that had to make you wonder.
Jason Bourne was either a film with a story impressive enough to pull in the requisite cast and crew, or enough people needed money that they were willing to knock something out. You had to imagine it was one of those.
The first twenty minutes of the film let you know what side we’re on, especially if you’re a fan of the series and director Paul Greengrass.
We open with Bourne apparently going about what has become his humdrum life, traveling from one illegal (I guess) mixed martial arts/boxing/whatever match to another. Audiences may presume that he’s maneuvering himself, or otherwise “Bourne-ing” his way toward some goal, but it turns out that this is simply what he’s decided to do with himself.
This time around it’s Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who pulls Bourne into action. She finds him, because something nefarious is starting up again, and she needs Bourne’s help to get something out of the proof she’s managed to steal.
CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is the new person in line to demand Bourne’s death as soon as he sees a picture of him, and now he has The Asset (Vincent Cassel) to try to carry out that sentence, and The Asset has a personal grudge against Bourne as well. And, because the bullet list for Bourne movies wants a female go-between, who is at least sort of on Bourne’s side, agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) believes she can bring him in, mostly because she gets goosebumps when she thinks of what that will look like on her resume.
The theme the movie wants you to leave with is something vaguely along the lines of Bourne finally, and truly, coming to grips with who he is. With all that he’s been through, it has to finally go somewhere, and someone can probably exploit that. Unfortunately, everything we’ve been through doesn’t exactly go anywhere, and the entire construction of the film feels sadly exploitative.
It isn’t all bad, and fans should find themselves able to have fun with several scenes, but it’s almost as though the film demands that you not pay too much attention, just like those involved in making it.
Jason Bourne pulls out the hit list of what we expect from a Bourne film, and then offers up the laziest version of these notes, telegraphing everything, and paying no attention to what seems to fit the characters (mostly Bourne, of course) in terms of action and response.
We get the standard “Bourne meeting,” which finds Bourne overcoming the utter impossibility of meeting someone in today’s world, but it feels like a half-effort. Possibly because we’ve seen it so many times, or perhaps because “pulling the fire alarm,” just isn’t that exciting. Misdirection abounds, and that is ultimately part of the film’s downfall, as its effort to have feints-within-feints results in having too many balls in the air to properly pay attention to any of them.
This is all especially odd considering Paul Greengrass is on board. Greengrass doesn’t whip out a film every time someone offers him money, and his choices have all worked extremely well. Well, from a directing standpoint anyway. He only really hit the scene with Bloody Sunday, which was brilliant enough to get him The Bourne Supremacy. Beyond that, he’s got United 93, Green Zone (a kind of Bourne redux, also with Matt Damon), Captain Phillips, and Bourne films. How that translates into offering up this paint-by-numbers turn at the wheel is mind-boggling. Even the car chase turns racing and destruction into the equivalent of Sleepytime Tea.
While still something that is a “fun enough” action vehicle, Bourne films are supposed to be rather more than that. Enough credit cannot be given to Matt Damon though, because he excels in even the smallest moments in the role, and manages to keep you interested in watching, even as you wonder what the hell is going on. That’s a bigger chore that it might seem.